For a side with brilliant individuals but seldom known for sustained team effort, it has taken India over 75 years since it started playing Test cricket to become the world’s No. 1 team. The ranking system itself started only in 2001, and since then Australia and South Africa are the only teams to end a year on top. But those who have been following Indian cricket over decades will readily agree that, rankings or no rankings, the team has never been good enough to even arguably claim to be the best in the world.
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From C.K. Nayudu through Vinoo Mankad, Vijay Merchant, Sunil Gavaskar and Kapil Dev, to name a few, several talented players have worn the Indian cap. Gavaskar and Dev, at different points, have held world records for the highest aggregate of Test runs and wickets, respectively. Anil Kumble is one of only two bowlers to have taken 10 wickets in a Test innings (the other being Jim Laker), while Virender Sehwag came close to becoming the only batsman with three career Test triple centuries. Sachin Tendulkar holds more records than can be mentioned in a sentence.
But those achievements have not translated into cumulative success when different players of unquestionable class have formed a team. It took India 20 years, after it started playing internationally in 1932, to win a Test; the first series win abroad took another 16 years to come—in New Zealand. India’s 100th Test win came in the current series against Sri Lanka, after playing 432 matches. It has also lost 136, drawn 195 and tied one.
The transformation of the team started under the captaincy of Sourav Ganguly nearly 10 years ago. But the team still had greater success at home than abroad. The culmination of Ganguly’s efforts, through Rahul Dravid, and the gently firm, if brief, leadership of Anil Kumble provided the bedrock for the success of the current side under M.S. Dhoni’s leadership.
This team, with a mix of experience and youth, some of the world’s best players in Tendulkar, Sehwag, Dravid, a competent blend of pace and spin bowling, and with controlled egos, has come together under a confident leadership that has encouraged many to call it the best Indian side ever.
The reign on top may not last long given next year’s limited schedule of matches, but reaching the summit itself is cause for celebration for India’s No. 1 sport.